Yoga poses yoke together the intangible with the tangible and brings them both into action. And when this happens you include the subtlety of what you are—and I don’t just mean by intention in your head. I mean literally by presence through your whole body. Our bodies make the intangible tangible. It just requires that your mind quiets down. When this happens, the shape of our consciousness changes. For example, I’ve never seen someone become more aware of his or her body without also becoming more compassionate.
Mm. So with awareness comes the compassion?
Yeah. And I think that your body, when you start to explore it, you feel more connected to everything. This leads to compassion. It’s ironic that this is coming from me right? I’m a guy that’s talking about exploring the body and I can’t feel it the same as you. But as I describe it in my book, Waking, what I experience through paralysis is that my outer body, my ability to be able to control muscles and move, is gone right? With my legs and below my chest—I don’t have that same direct access. Instead I hear what is there underneath my ability to move. In my first book I describe that my body presents itself to me like an artichoke as we eat it. Green leaf after green leaf, thriving muscle after thriving muscle, is peeled away. Until nothing but the heart of the artichoke remains—a heart that presents as space and silence. Now I think that because of my spinal cord injury I have a more direct and unfettered access to the manifestation of existence as it houses in our body. ’Cause I feel what it is like to live in a body, in certain parts of my body anyway, without any control. But instead of helping me realise the sensation of existence without control, the doctors told me I had no sensation in my body below my point of injury. That was patently false. It turns out when you peel away artichoke leaves
what remains is a hum in the core of what we are. I can feel into my legs, it’s just different to what you feel. And it turns out that you can teach this subtler level of sensation to people living with disability, regardless of their specific conditions. You can show them that there’s another level of their sensation and existence that precedes their ability to control it. It’s more than a wish or the imagination. It’s an experienced truth. This part of the mind-body relationship is not rehabilitated in the Western paradigm. And so I go around teaching healthcare professionals how to include and engage this level of human being in the healing process. So what I feel in my legs you can also feel in the core of you. I just have it easier because my paralysis removes the distraction of the outer body. When you connect to your own existence at this deeper level, like I said, compassion is generated.
So by ceasing control we can better hear this part of ourselves? This hum. Is that how you describe it?
What I think I hear within my paralysis is what consciousness feels like as a sensation. It’s beautiful and quiet and powerful and it resists my will. That’s what’s so beautiful, it’s “here” whether we feel it or not. And yet the yogic tradition is passing down that if the universe manifested as a sound it would sound like “Om.” On some level, I think that this is the sound I hear within my paralysis. “Om.” And what’s crazy is when I come into better alignment, the hum, the Om, becomes louder. So I study a type of yoga called Iyengar Yoga, which works to actually bring things more into alignment. When you come into greater alignment, that hum gets louder and it creates a sense of wholeness. And when this happens, an effortless form of mind-body integration occurs. This hum can improve your breathing. The gift of being alive is that we have the opportunity to do things like breathing and asana, which are our yoga postures, that can more directly participate in this hum. For me, I have come to these insights because my paralysis brings me the experience of consciousness before control. In other words, paralysis is my teacher, not simply an impediment. It turns out when you act in congruence with this deeper hum, you can transfer better, your balance increases, you feel
more whole. You become more connected to the space around you. This is a game-changer for someone living with a disability. But quite honestly, it’s a game-changer for everyone.
And is that because we’re more tuned into subtleties and we’re unconsciously self-correcting? You know, we’re more aware of our bodies, more in relationship with them, so we’re sort of correcting our physical form according to the environment?
Well, there’s another line I like to say when I teach: “Strength without a sense of direction leads to violence.” That’s what I would say my physical therapy did. The recovery process was getting me really strong, to act upon my body but without teaching me an inward sense of direction. The result was a subtly violent relationship to my paralysed body. I was having to lunge with my body, right? With an outward sense of direction. If you felt a direction at a deep level, inward, that is grace. But they were thinking I could only move from my chest up. They were saying, “Get really strong and lunge.” But they didn’t teach me how to lift my tailbone up through my mouth while simultaneously pushing down through my heels. That inward sensation I can do now. And when I do, when I lift up and start this hunkering down, when I move more gracefully like that, I don’t have to use as much effort and violence. I can transfer better. I can move better. I’ve been teaching people with disability for years, and I’ve trained teachers coming from around the world. What I try to do is reveal in very practical ways the fact that we all have a more subtle body that actually changes and can change and transform how we move. And then you open to your intangible nature more. Without it being infected by a belief system [laughs]. ’Cause we have an intangible nature. And human history’s been competing for it. With belief systems.
You’re trying to talk about something that is the experience, not the belief system.
Although yoga you could argue is a belief system.
Watching this level of sensation in your body is independent of belief. It is an experience. I’m actually experiencing it. If I put my hand on your back between your shoulder blades and lightly push forward and up with my open palm, you would feel a lightness come into your chest. Your balance on your feet would change. Something would distribute through your whole body. Something might even begin to heal. What you do with that expansion of sensation is up to you. You are free to work with it in service of any belief system you choose. But I do think that this lightening sensation comes from the sensation of unity between all things. This is what I chose to believe. The sensation itself is an experienced fact.